Lithium is more than just a pretty solid Nirvana track – it’s also the reason that the portable computer in your pocket can keep on tweeting, e-mailing and otherwise vibrating for hours on end.
But soon there may not be enough available to go around.
As the demand for long-lasting batteries in cell-phones, laptops, and electric cars increases, so too does demand for Lithium, their key ingredient.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimated recently that conventional lithium reserves provide enough for production of 37,000 tons of the element per year for 365 years. That sounds like a lot, but with over a million electric cars expected in 2020, the development of battery clusters that power smart homes (like Tesla’s Powerwall), and increasing availability of lithium-powered consumer electronics, demand is sure to rise exponentially every year.
To battle the problem of Lithium shortage, researchers are looking to some unconventional sources. In Japan, for instance, scientists at the Atomic Energy Agency are working on a method to extract lithium from seawater through dialysis. According to a report from MIT Technology Review, “The system is based on a dialysis cell with a membrane consisting of a superconductor material,” a sentence which presumably means something to someone, somewhere.
Though the method is a long way away from being used commercially, one of the lead scientists on the project, Tsuyoshi Hoshino wrote that this particular method of extracting Lithium “shows good energy efficiency and is easily scalable.” Hoshino adds that his method could be commercialized in five years.
If Hoshino’s method makes it to commercialization, it could be a huge boom for the lithium battery industry, especially to powerhouse Tesla. Mineral assays of Nevada’s salt lakes have shown promising concentrations of lithium, which also happens to be where the battery pioneer plans to build its massive battery production plant, known as the “Gigafactory.”
For now, though, we’re stuck with a reliance on more conventional lithium sources.
The White House on Friday unveiled plans for a new effort to ramp up testing for Covid-19, which experts say is an essential part of limiting the spread of the virus. This chart from Vox gives a sense of just how far the U.S. has to go to catch up to other countries that are dealing with the pandemic, including South Korea, the leading virus screener with 3,692 tests per million people. The U.S., by comparison, has done about 23 tests per million people as of March 12.
The Air Force has scrapped a planned upgrade of its B-2 stealth bomber fleet — even after spending $2 billion on the effort — because defense contractor Northrup Grumman didn’t have the necessary software expertise to complete the project on time and on budget, Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio reports, citing the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer.
Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters that the nearly $2 billion that had already been spent on the program wasn’t wasted because “we are still going to get upgraded electronic displays.”
Bernie Sanders wants to eliminate $1.6 trillion in student debt, to be paid for by a tax on financial transactions, but doing so won’t be easy, says Josh Mitchell of The Wall Street Journal.
The main problem for Sanders is that most Americans don’t support the plan, with 57% of respondents in a poll last fall saying they oppose the idea of canceling all student debt. And the politics are particularly thorny for Sanders as he prepares for a likely general election run, Mitchell says: “Among the strongest opponents are groups Democrats hope to peel away from President Trump: Rust Belt voters, independents, whites, men and voters in rural areas.”
That’s how much Michael Bloomberg is spending per day in his pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination, according to new monthly filings with the Federal Election Commission. “In January alone, Bloomberg dropped more than $220 million on his free-spending presidential campaign,” The Hill says. “That breaks down to about $7.1 million a day, $300,000 an hour or $5,000 per minute.”